PEBBLE BEACH, California (Reuters) - Before dawn on Sunday when the fog rolls off the Pacific Ocean onto the fabled Pebble Beach golf course, 260 historic cars will roll onto the 18th fairway for the 63rd annual Concours d‘Elegance classic car show.
Among them will be Hispano-Suizas, Duesenbergs, Bugattis, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Lincolns.
That’s right, Lincolns. Ford Motor Co (F.N) is trying to revive its luxury brand, which has been dormant for decades. Thus classic Lincolns from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are a featured marque here, slated to compete for the coveted Best in Show award. And for the first time ever at Pebble Beach, Lincoln also is promoting its newest models at pre-show events, including the Concours’ opening reception last Thursday.
“We’re committed to showcasing the very best of the automotive world, past and present,” said Sandra Button, chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours.
It’s all a sign that the Pebble Beach Concours, the greatest classic car show on earth, is going plebian, although that’s a relative term in this rarified setting. Tickets to Sunday’s big show cost $225 in advance and $275 at the door. Some classic cars will fetch millions of dollars at pre-show auctions; Gooding & Co is estimating more than $3 million for a 1948 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Competizione roadster. Vintage California wines flow freely at the myriad parties and receptions leading up to Sunday’s show.
Yet a more modest side to the Pebble Beach Concours is gaining added prominence as car companies use the venue for more promotional events. Also displaying its new cars here for the first time, like Lincoln, is Korea’s mid-brow Kia marque, which is trying to go upscale with its new Cadenza sedan. Kia’s corporate cousin Hyundai (011760.KS) (both brands are owned by the same conglomerate) is here for the second year, spotlighting its Equus luxury sedan with a base price of $61,000.
Lincoln’s American arch-competitor, General Motors’ Cadillac brand, scored a coup for its coupes this week when actor Clint Eastwood visited one of its pre-show events.
“You could sell that right now,” intoned the 83-year-old star of “Dirty Harry” and dozens of other movies while sipping wine and ogling a new Caddy, Cadillac’s arresting Elmiraj concept.
For the attendant GM (GM.N) executives, including design chief Ed Welburn, the remark made their day. Cadillac’s own brand revival effort is running years ahead of Lincoln‘s, though Cadillac still trails the German trio of BMW (BMWG.DE), Audi (VOWG_p.DE) and Mercedes-Benz (DAIGn.DE).
For the Pebble Beach Concours, the prominence of current-model cars at events surrounding Sunday’s show is a step back to the future. At its start in 1950, the Pebble Beach show followed most others in emphasizing the latest automotive styling and technology. But the Pebble Beach Concours gained global status by emphasizing exclusive and ultra-rare classic cars.
Those remain the show’s highlight. Among the featured Lincolns will be a 1956 Continental MK II that once belonged to Anne Ford, the first Mrs. Henry Ford II. Other rarities include a 1931 Lincoln K Murphy Sport Phaeton, owned by a couple from New Jersey, and a 1937 Lincoln K Willoughby 7 Passenger Touring, the property of a man from Montana.
But the recent prominence of new models and futuristic “concept cars” will be evident too. Among those on display here during the past week - besides Lincolns, Cadillacs, Kias and Hyundais - are the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante and the Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-4 50th Anniversario Roadster (a name and car that are decidedly non-plebian.) There are somewhat less rarified new or current models being promoted by Infiniti (7201.T), Jaguar, Porsche (PSHG_p.DE), Maserati and other marques.
Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours tops a week-long celebration of automobiles and car culture on California’s Monterey Peninsula. There are five auctions, three days of vintage-car racing at the nearby Laguna Seca track and eight different concours, or exhibitions.
Unique among the latter is the tongue-in-cheek Concours d‘Lemons. It is a decidedly plebian event that displays and celebrates some of the worst cars of all time. Examples include the infamous Trabant from the former East Germany, the tiny and tinny Renault LeCar from the early 1980s and America’s aptly named AMC Gremlin, which was introduced on April Fool’s Day 1970 and had a chopped-off design first sketched on the back of a Northwest Airlines air-sickness bag.
Admission to the Concours d‘Lemon, held on Saturday in Seaside, California, is “free,” the event’s promoters boast, “which means you’ll get exactly what you pay for.”
Paul Ingrassia, managing editor of Reuters, has written three automotive books, and is an honorary judge at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d‘Elegance.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh